TV Party: 'Killing Eve' on BBC1

Internet hype can be annoying, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge's BBC America transplant is a show that's worth the noise.

19 September 2018, 5:30am

All screenshots via BBC

Welcome to TV Party, VICE's weekly TV column, brought to you by resident sad-act, me, Lauren O’Neill, where I basically just talk for a bit about the best (or worst) thing on telly this week. Best enjoyed with a plate of your favourite breaded item and an open mind. Contains spoilers, obvs. This week: 'Killing Eve.'

I have a lot of bad habits (habitual whinging; nailbiting; asking the groupchat to vote on what I’m having for dinner and getting annoyed when people don’t join in) but the one I dislike the most is probably not actually that rare.

When the online volume around a particular bit of culture – usually a film, TV show, or music release – gets too loud, my instinct is often to reject the thing causing the noise. Obviously there are exceptions. If your immediate response to people tweeting about Beyoncé performing at Coachella, for example, was to make a smartarse comment about the number of songwriters on her records, then I’d like to ask you when you last went outside. But in general, I can be a bit contrary, especially for someone whose job it partly is to you know, engage with this stuff.

I didn’t bother with Serial and I can’t be arsed with Westworld. It took me over a year to watch The Crown after its initial release, despite the fact that posh people vaguely relating to each other in opulent surroundings is my favourite sport. In all of these cases, my ignorance or lateness can be put down to the fact that the internet discourse about this stuff didn’t stop, so I became jaded before I had even begun. The immediacy of online seems to demand that we have an opinion on the art we consume before we’ve started to properly digest it, so internet hype can feel like ill-considered hot air.

Sandra Oh and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in Episode 1 of 'Killing Eve.'

It goes without saying, however, that the best stuff cuts through the takes and speaks for itself. One such example is BBC America’s Killing Eve which aired in the US back in April and has now made it to the UK. The first episode was on after Strictly on Saturday night (smart), and it’ll occupy that time-slot going forward. The whole lot’s on iPlayer if you can’t wait, though. Here’s how it works:

*Seinfeld voice* What’s the deal with Killing Eve?

There are a lot of answers to that question, so here are some of them:

1) It’s a spy-centric cat-and-mouse drama set across Europe which: yes.

2) It follows the mutual obsession that develops between a young psychopath and the assassin-obsessed MI5 officer on her tail. I know! It sounds quite hammy! However:

3) It’s written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge also known as Fleabag also known as Phoebe Waller-Legend (it’s based on the Codename Villanelle novels by the journalist and author Luke Jennings, but was adapted by Waller-Bridge for TV; her stamp is apparent from the moment in the first episode when one character describes her sister’s child as her “arsehole baby”). For this reason, despite being a BBC America production, it feels fundamentally naturalistic in a very British way – characters spend basically as long talking about normal workplace stuff like buying a chocolate bar (“get me something with nuts”) as they do about catching a serial murderer. This is great news, because Killing Eve’s is a story which could very easily fall into silly over-seriousness if handled incorrectly.

4) Waller-Bridge’s involvement also means that Killing Eve is very funny! At one point in the first episode, the murderer Villanelle is described as “a flat-chested psychopath,” and from that moment on I was sold.

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) staking out a victim.

Who is even in it?

25-year-old Jodie Comer stars as the Russian assassin Villanelle. If you watched My Mad Fat Diary (if you haven’t and you’ve got a soft spot for sweet teen dramedies with Something To Say you’re missing a trick, by the way), she played Rae’s best friend Chloe; if you didn’t, it’s more than likely you’ve never heard of her, though after one episode of Killing Eve it’s doubtful you’ll forget her in a hurry. She’s charismatic and knowing, and despite playing a literal psychopath, she brings warmth and a great sense of humour (helped, of course, by Waller-Bridge’s sensational script, which is easily the best thing about the show) to her performance. She’s very good indeed.

The whole thing is stolen, however, by Sandra Oh – most famous for being on Grey’s Anatomy, as you’ll know from the many, many nights you’ve spent watching America’s favourite long-running medical drama, sweating and crying in your horrible little bed – who plays Eve Polastri, the MI5 officer and MI6 recruit who pursues and becomes obsessed with Villanelle. Oh is by turns hopeless, neurotic, and really fucking funny, and she’s utterly convincing in every emotion. She embodies the character and her beats and rhythms effortlessly, and as such delivers the sort of assured acting which feels consummate.

Also brilliant are Oh’s MI5 (and later, MI6) co-stars Kirby Howell-Baptiste and David Haig, who get the rapport specific to a workplace – the special bond that develops between the sound people who have to deal with the same daily bollocks – just right. Special mention, finally, to Green Wing’s Darren Boyd as the sort-of-pathetic MI5 boss Frank, who takes the insult “dickswab” like a true champion.

OK fine – but is it any good?

I know mere paragraphs ago I said that that internet hype is “annoying” and “the worst” but in Killing Eve’s case, it really was justified. Due to its earlier start date in the US I’d been hearing the name of the show bandied around before I even knew anything about it, and for that reason I hadn’t bothered to seek it out until it was due to air on the BBC, but in terms of new shows I’ve watched this year, it has quickly shot all the way up to the top (and even though Love Island is my favourite programme so I’m not necessarily to be trusted, other people with better opinions agree.)

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri.

How should I watch it?

Two episodes at once (sort of a mini-binge which means you can savour it a bit more than FULL BINGE), lying on a bed or sofa, with a snack because the episodes are 40+ minutes. OK for a hangover because it’s quite funny, which dials down the prospect of peril – which, when you’ve got a poorly head, can be very upsetting (who among us has not cried at a video of a vulnerable-looking animal the day after five pints?) – just enough. I am just looking out for you.

If Killing Eve were a nugget, how would you describe it?

Crisp and golden as a beautiful sunset, baby.

Any last words?

Killing Eve is great, great TV which feels like it amalgamates so much of what is important about TV: it's a funny, well-paced, escapist delight, with a story handled deftly by Waller-Bridge and the two lead actors. It’s also a monument to the Bechdel test, as men take a firm back seat. Just watch it to shut me up, eh?